Artist Wilcox Finds Outlet for Unique Photo Chemical Paintings

“And Now for Something Completely Different” –
Exhibit on Display November 3 – 24, 2012

ISSUE Magazine: November 2012 | Story and photos by Andy Coughlan

Sean Wilcox shows off one of his photo chemical paintings in his Beaumont home.

SEAN WILCOX SITS IN the covered porch of his Beaumont house, a few cats dozing on the chair, his blond hair bright in the evening sun.

He is thoughtful as he answers questions about his paintings. But bring up photo chemicals — specifically his photo chemical paintings — and he becomes almost evangelical in his effusive promotion of the art form.

“When it comes to the photo chemicals, there is a philosophy and there is motivation on my part,” he said. “We’ve seen the (photographic film) industry crumble — Kodak no longer makes silver gelatin, black and white — chemicals are hard to find.

“With the photo chemical paintings, I would like to see a rebirth of that industry. We’ll never be able to fight digital, but the part that I think is ironic and beautiful at the same time, is that when Picasso (started) painting, photography had just started to come out and everybody said, ‘We can’t paint the perfect painting anymore. What’s the point?’ That’s how a lot of the art evolved, they weren’t stigmatized by that any more. That was taken away. Now we are free to go off and do whatever the heck, you know?

“In the same sense that digital has come along, there is no comparison to film. What someone can do (in minutes) on a laptop used to take me hours in the dark room. It’s opened up the world for photography. But, ironically, the thing that took away the people’s desire to paint an almost photo-realistic painting has become the painting.”

Wilcox will exhibit his photo chemical images, as well as his complex oil paintings, in the exhibition, “And Now For Something Completely Different,” at The Art Studio, Nov. 3-25. The show will open with a free reception, 7-10 p.m., Nov. 3.

The Montana native said he was an Air Force brat and right after he was born his family moved to Okinawa, Japan for five years. After that, they spent time in Spain, England and the Phillipines. His father is from Beaumont and his mother was from Kettering, England, and the family settled in Beaumont when Sean was 10.

He said his nomadic early life is represented in his work.

“You can see it in the Samurai paintings” he said. “I think a lot of the inspiration of travels, history — I had a good opportunity to see lots of museums growing up. My mom really loved art and kind of pushed it. My brother was a basketball player so she kind of sheltered me in that sense.”

In third grade, Wilcox won an award for a small drawing and was hooked from then on.

After high school, he joined the army as a mechanic, serving in the Desert Storm conflict.

Sean Wilcox stands surrounded by his artwork, left, in his Beaumont home.

“It was a very on-edge kind of thing — but with a lot of laughter,” he said. “War is the most boring thing imaginable. You just sit around waiting for a few minutes to happen and that’s it.”

Before he joined the army, he was an avid photographer, winning several awards.

“But when I was (in Iraq), I took photos of some of the most horrible things I could ever see, and I found myself composing it,” he said. “So I put the camera down. I just quit taking photographs. Something about it triggered something. I probably should have used it o my advantage, but at the time I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”

When he left the service he planned to use his money for college to study painting, but the military refused to allow him to go into the liberal arts, saying that Wilcox could only use the money for something tangible that would allow him to go into the workforce, he said. So he never went to college, choosing instead to use his mechanical and photographic skills by working for photo labs.

“That led to the photo-chemical paintings, which was a complete accident,” he said.

He would see the chemicals on the paper in trash cans when he turned the lights on, and that is how he discovered the photo paintings.

“I found that I didn’t need a camera to use the aspects of photography — the chemicals, the paper,” he said.

Despite being unable to study formally, Wilcox did pick up painting again as soon as he returned from the Gulf.

“I was living with my parents and I had hardly any money, and it was really something to do,” he said. “I can honestly say, I’m 44 now, that I have been dedicatedly painting for 25 years.”

OMEGA II, above, is an oil on canvas.

Wilcox said he is self-taught through books and trial and error. He also met local artist Marty Arredondo, another “key player” when he got back.

“We used to go to shows and hang out and paint,” Wilcox said, adding that he also shared a studio with photographer and acrylic artist Rodney Navarre.

“They were good influences,” Wilcox said. “And I always went to the shows.”

For the past four years he has entered The Art Studio’s Alternative Show, and he placed in the 2011 TASIMJAE, The Art Studio’s membership show. It was then that he was offered the chance to show his latest work.

“And Now For Something Completely Different” will feature a cross section of Wilcox’s work over the past few years, including some works on loan from collections.

Wilcox said that when he is working on an oil painting, he dedicates himself to one piece at a time. A large blue painting sits on an easel in his living room, one that he said took six months to complete.

“It’s a lengthy process, because with oils they have to build up, build up, build up,” he said. “I try to capture and use the ridges in the paint, but it’s on there very, very light — it’s not a thick impasto. So it is a horrible experience of just building up. I don’t paint the canvas one solid color and then start. I go from raw, following my lines, and then start building up from there.”

Wilcox said he works from fully-realized drawings in his ever-present sketchbook.

“Of course, the paintings evolve themselves, but they do start out as little tiny thumbnails,” he said.

Some of the sketches will be framed to show the viewer how the pieces evolve, he said.

Most of the work he does is abstract portraiture, Wilcox said.

“I like to paint people, but not necessarily realistic,” he said.

[ click image for original size ]

Wilcox said that he doesn’t have a specific philosophy in his work.

“I like samurais, so I paint samurais,” he said. “I think it is beautiful, the whole honor and pageantry, the whole idea.

“Not necessarily am I trying to make someone sit there and have a political statement or a life-altering consciousness from looking at my paintings. I’m trying to make beauty. That’s my philosophy — trying to add beauty to the world.”

Wilcox will demonstrate his photo painting process during the gallery talk on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., at The Art Studio.

He said it is not something he can trademark and sell, but while he has heard of other artists who pour chemicals on the paper, he doesn’t know of people who use a brush and “paint” the chemicals in the controlled manner he has developed.

Where these images fall in the nomenclature of the art world is open for debate. Wilcox has been told that his photo paintings are not photographs, because there is no negative. He has also been told that they are not paintings because he is not actually applying color to the surface.

“So I just sort of got ditched by both sides,” he said.

DISENCHANTED, oil on canvas, by Sean Wilcox.

Wilcox continues to make his photo paintings, and has even experimented with making the
chemicals in stick form to draw on the paper.

This show is a cleaning of the slate, he said.

“I don’t know what to expect from the future, but I will be starting a lot of new stuff,” he said.

He plans to really promote the photo-chemical techniques, maybe writing a how-to book. He said
he would like to get with the manufacturers and see if there is any way to make it a viable product.

If things go to plan, we may all be playing with our chemical crayons and photo painter, the cheap pack we picked up at the local art supply store. If that happens, Sean Wilcox will be a happy man.